natural gas

Fri, 2012-06-29 10:47Steve Horn
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Sand Land: Frac Sand Mining in Western Wisconsin - Video Report by DeSmogBlog

The rush to drill for unconventional gas, enabled by a process popularly known as “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, has brought with it much collateral damage. Close observers know about contaminated water, earthquakes, and climate change impacts of the shale gas boom, but few look at the entire life cycle of fracking from cradle to grave.

Until recently, one of the most underlooked facets of the industry was the “cradle” portion of the shale gas lifecycle: frac sand mining in the hills of northwestern Wisconsin and bordering eastern Minnesota, areas now serving as the epicenter of the frac sand mining world.

The silence on the issue ended after several good investigative stories were produced by outlets in the past year or so, such as Wisconsin WatchPR WatchThe Wisconsin State Journal, the Associated PressThe Wall Street JournalOrionEcoWatch, and most recently, Tom Dispatch. These various articles, all well worth reading, explain the land grab currently unfolding in the Midwest and the ecological damage that has accompanied it

To put it bluntly, there could be no shale gas extraction without the sand. As Tom Dispatch's Ellen Cantarow recently explained,

That sand, which props open fractures in the shale, has to come from somewhere. Without it, the fracking industry would grind to a halt. So big multinational corporations are descending on this bucolic region to cart off its prehistoric sand, which will later be forcefully injected into the earth elsewhere across the country to produce more natural gas. Geology that has taken millions of years to form is now being transformed into part of a system, a machine, helping to drive global climate change.

Frac sand, which consists of fine-grained sillica, can cause the respiratory illness, silicosis. Washing the frac sand in preparation for the fracking process is also a water intensive process, particularly threatening in the age of increasing water scarcity in the United States and around the world.

Fri, 2012-06-29 10:45Steve Horn
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New Documentary "Rational Middle": Oil and Gas Advertising in Disguise

The “Rational Middle Energy Series,” directed and produced by Gregory Kallenberg, is hot off the film rolls and has already been screened at an influential venue: the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival.

Kallenberg also directed and produced the documentary film “Haynesville: A Nation’s Hunt for An Energy Future,” a film about the ongoing shale gas boom in the United States and a counterpart, of sorts, to Josh Fox’s Academy Award-nominated documentary “Gasland.”

Kallenberg, in a press release announcing the film series’ launch, stated,

Through our travels with 'Haynesville,' no matter where we were in the world, we saw a striking commonality from community to community: the need and desire for a balanced discussion about today's energy issues. We realized that more often than not, people wanted to leave behind the noise and extremes to build an energy future that is environmentally sound, economically viable and ensures energy security. The 'Rational Middle' is the starting point for a movement welcoming open discussion where everyone is invited to the table to find solutions to the most important energy challenges.

Taken at face value, the movie’s description sounds fairly innocent.

Yet, the questions to be asked as the film makes the rounds: Who is Gregory Kallenberg? Who is his family? And in general, who are the real characters behind the curtain here?

The answers to these questions say much more about the film than does the description offered in promotional pitches. As it turns out, the public relations firm tasked to do promotional pitches also speaks volumes about the filmmaker's agenda.

Thu, 2012-06-14 12:22Steve Horn
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Was Andrew Cuomo's NY Fracking "Sacrifice Zone" Plan Hatched by NRDC?

Has New York Governor Andrew Cuomo just made the southern tier of the state a “sacrifice zone,” as alleged by award-winning author and “fracktivist,” Sandra Steingraber? Was it a plot hatched by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)?

The signs pointing to both possibilities are troublesome, to say the least.

The New York Times reported yesterday, via an unidentified insider at the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), that Cuomo intends to “limit [shale gas] drilling to the deepest areas of the Marcellus Shale rock formation, at least for the next several years, in an effort to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination.”

The Times article describes Cuomo's apparent plan:  

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration is pursuing a plan to limit the controversial drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing to portions of several struggling New York counties along the border with Pennsylvania, and to permit it only in communities that express support for the technology.

These counties, it turns out, are not only “struggling,” as The Times describes them, but in destitute levels of poverty. Two of the counties up for grabs for fracking include Steuben and Chemung, which, according to New York Department of Labor statistics, have unemployment rates hovering around 10 percent, among the highest in the state.

Support for dangerous industrial development is certainly much easier to garner during times of economic desperation. That much has been made clear throughout history in the United States, particularly in the arena of mountaintop removal for coal extraction in Appalachia. In other words, it's far easier to sell a rotten bill of goods (or in this case, contaminated water and air) to those mired in poverty. Is New York setting up to repeat this tragic cycle?

Fri, 2012-06-01 15:46Steve Horn
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Massey WV Coal Battle Take Two: Erie, CO Citizens Fight Fracking

Erie, CO meet Naoma, WV. Though seemingly different battles over different ecologically hazardous extractive processes – hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for unconventional gas versus mountaintop removal for coal – the two battles are one in the same and direct parallels of one another. 

On June 2, a coalition of activist organizations led by Erie Rising and joined by the likes of the Sierra Club, the Mark Ruffalo-lead Water Defense, the Angela Monti Fox-lead Mothers Project (mother of “Gasland” Producer and Director, Josh Fox), Food and Water Watch (FWW), among others, will take to Erie, CO to say “leave and leave now” to EnCana Corporation.

EnCana has big plans to drill baby drill in Erie.

It “plans to frack for natural gas near three local schools and a childcare center,” according to a press release disseminated by FWW. “On June 2, the event in Erie will give voice to those immediately affected by fracking there, and to all Americans marred by the process, becoming ground zero for the national movement to expose the dangers associated with fracking.”

The action is a simple one: a “rally and vigil to protest gas industry giant Encana’s plans to frack for natural gas near Red Hawk Elementary, Erie Elementary, Erie Middle School and Exploring Minds Childcare Center and transport toxic fracking by-products on roads that come within feet of these and other community schools,” reads the FWW press release.

Fri, 2012-06-01 04:43Laurel Whitney
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Chesapeake Energy And Other Fracking Companies Squatting On New York Citizens' Land

New York landowners are having a hard time evicting an unwanted tenant, it seems. That's why over 200 people residing in the Marcellus Shale are suing energy companies such as Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Inflection Energy, arguing that the land leases they originally signed with the companies over 5 years ago are now expired.

Originally, land owners signed on with companies like Chesapeake thinking it was a way to earn much needed revenue from their lands. However, citing New York's moratorium and descending gas prices alongside emerging environmental and health complications, many want out. With many of the contracts past their end dates, you would think that wouldn't be such a huge problem.

Except with thousands of acres of land at stake, the oil and gas companies aren't releasing or renegotiating any new leases any time soon, invoking the act of God and natural disaster clauses of the leases.

In legal speak, it's called “force majeure.” It allows the terms of a lease to continue based on unforeseen circumstances. Usually this counts for natural disasters or “acts of God”, but in this case, the companies are arguing that the moratorium on fracking in New York state should fall under this clause and allow them to retain the land.

Wed, 2012-05-30 08:35Brendan DeMelle
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What Chesapeake Energy's Financial Scandals Mean For The Rest of Us

Given radioactive wastewater, earthquakes, and flammable tap water, one might think that drilling and fracking could not possibly have any more dirty secrets. But here’s the biggest secret of all: it’s expensive.

With natural gas at historic low prices – the Wall Street Journal ran a column recently suggesting that the price of gas might even sink to negative numbers, so that producers would need to pay buyers to take it off their hands – it may seem odd to think that fracking is costly. But it’s true. Not just in terms of its environmental footprint, but also in terms of its financial costs.

And everyone should care about how expensive gas is, especially those concerned about energy security and the environment, because the answer will determine the fate of renewables, the way we use land and water, and whether our nation’s energy policies are fundamentally sound.

To understand what’s going on, you need to look at Chesapeake Energy, the second largest producer of natural gas in the US, the company described by its founder and CEO Aubrey McClendon as the “biggest frackers in the world.”

For 19 of the past 21 years, the company has operated at what investors call “cash flow negative” – last year by $8.547 billion dollars – meaning that Chesapeake has consistently spent a whole lot more than it earned. For decades.

To fund all that fracking, the company has been flipping land, engaging in so many financial transactions that it’s been said to resemble a hedge fund more than a gas driller.

McClendon's company has become the environmental Enron, with Chesapeake's accountants creating some of the most labyrinthine and impenetrable books since Enron, according to some investors.

Thu, 2012-05-17 14:19Steve Horn
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New Shill Gas Study Published by SUNY Buffalo Institute With Heavy Industry Ties

When does a study on the unconventional shale gas industry become a “shill gas study”? The quick answer: when nearly everyone writing and peer reviewing it has close ties to the industry they're purportedly doing an “objective” study on.

The newest kid on the block: a recent study published by SUNY Buffalo's Shale Resources and Society Institute, titled, ”Environmental Impacts During Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts and Remedies.”

The four co-authors of the “study” all have backgrounds, directly or indirectly, in the oil and gas industry:

Wed, 2012-05-02 10:04Steve Horn
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ALEC Wasn't First Industry Trojan Horse Behind Fracking Disclosure Bill - Enter Council of State Governments

19th Century German statesman Otto von Bismarck once said, “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), put on the map by the Center for Media and Democracy in its “ALEC Exposed” project, is the archetype of von Bismarck's truism. So too are the fracking chemical disclosure bills that have passed and are currently being pushed for in statehouses nationwide.

State-level fracking chemical disclosure bills have been called a key piece of reform in the push to hold the unconventional gas industry accountable for its actions. The reality, though, is murkier.

On April 21, The New York Times penned an investigation making that clear. The Times wrote:

Last December, ALEC adopted model legislation, based on a Texas law, addressing the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The ALEC legislation, which has since provided the basis for similar bills submitted in five states, has been promoted as a victory for consumers’ right to know about potential drinking water contaminants.

A close reading of the bill, however, reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets. Most telling, perhaps, the bill was sponsored within ALEC by ExxonMobil, one of the largest practitioners of fracking — something not explained when ALEC lawmakers introduced their bills back home.

The Texas law The Times refers to is HB 3328, passed in June 2011 in a 137-8 roll call vote, while its Senate companion bill passed on a 31-0 unanimous roll call vote. Since then, variations of the model bill have passed in two other key states in which fracking is occuring.

Like dominos falling in quick succession over the following months, ColoradoPennsylvania and, most recently, the Illinois Senate passed bills based on the ALEC model. Louisiana also has introduced a similar bill. 

Tue, 2012-05-01 14:25Carol Linnitt
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EPA Shale Gas Emissions Standards: "Too Little, Too Late"

The gas industry received a blow yesterday when the nonprofit group Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) released a joint statement by Professors Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth of Cornell University. According to the release the EPA’s new emissions standards for methane and volatile organics from shale gas development “must be considered to little, too late” given the urgent need to reduce global levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

The gas industry is set to remain the single largest methane polluter in the United States, according to the release, with an overall GHG footprint surpassing emissions from coal. 
 
The EPA’s new national emissions standards, finalized in mid-April, rely on new air quality measures, the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Pollutants (NESHAPS), that target pollutants discharged during gas extraction activities. New procedures, such as a methane capture technique known as “green completion,” are expected to play a significant role in achieving the new standards.
 
Howarth and Ingraffea agree these standards are significant and if strongly-enforced could amount to a reduction in methane emissions of about one-third. But despite this achievement, they write, methane emissions remain a serious problem.
“Despite the new regulations, shale gas methane emissions will remain significant, with the estimates of EPA (2011) and Howarth et al. (2011) indicating a likely leakage of 2.5 – 3.9 percent of the amount of methane produced over the lifetime of a shale-gas well, and possibly as high as 6 percent,” the statement reads.
Despite the EPA’s efforts, which have caught positive attention from prominent environmental groups, Howarth and Ingraffea remain very matter-of-fact about the real issue, which hinges on a nation-wide spread of poor practice. Gas production is plagued with ‘ongoing emission’ problems and the EPA’s emissions standards – while a step in the right direction – just aren’t enough to make the concerns associated with poor practice go away.
Fri, 2012-04-27 13:45Brendan DeMelle
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Chesapeake Energy Well Blowout in Wyoming Causes Evacuation, Methane "Roared" For Days

A potentially dangerous oil well blowout at a Chesapeake Energy site in Wymoing caused at least 60 and perhaps 70 residents to evacuate within 5 miles of the disaster for several days until it was contained earlier today. Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) was drilling the well in the Niobrara Shale region underlying parts of Wyoming, Colorada and Nebraska. 

“Potentially explosive methane gas roared from the ground at the site five miles northeast of the town of Douglas,” the AP reported.

Residents reported hearing the roar of escaping gas six miles away

The blowout occurred Tuesday afternoon at Chesapeake's Combs Ranch Unit well site. However, workers were unable to plug the well with drilling mud until today due to shifting winds that made the site too dangerous to attempt the now infamous “Top Kill” technique.  Halliburton subsidiary Boots & Coots workers were able to shove enough mud and other materials into the well to finally stop the methane gas leaking out of the well today.

Chesapeake had to resort to the “Top Kill” technique last year at a Pennsylvania gas fracking well blowout. In that case, Chesapeake used a junk shot of “a mix of plastic, ground up tires and heavy mud to plug the well.”

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